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Thursday, 15 June 2006
Page: 126

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (10:13 AM) —If that is the end of the East Timor issues, I am happy to deal with a few of those issues without going into all of the details of consultations and discussions that there have been over those few years, including with Security Council members—in particular, the five permanent members—and with the East Timor government. Let me just make a broad point about this. I think we quite rightly took the view—and I feel very strongly about this—that a country like East Timor has got to learn to stand on its own two feet. It has got to learn to take responsibility for its own actions and behaviour. Political leaders in East Timor cannot expect the international community to be investing very heavily in their country, as well as in other countries which have difficult security or political situations, and to hold their hand indefinitely. I think one of the problems we have today in East Timor is that the East Timorese leadership are looking too much to the international community to solve their problems and not enough to themselves and are not taking responsibility themselves for what has happened in their country.

The purpose of the peacekeeping force was to deal with the problem of the Indonesian backed militias which were in East Timor—transgressions across the Indonesian border and the continuing activity of Indonesian backed militias—not to deal with political malfeasance amongst political players in East Timor. That was not the purpose of the peacekeeping force. The changes that took place in Indonesia, the work that the peacekeeping force and the UN more generally, the United Nations police, have done in East Timor had, for all sorts of reasons, absolutely solved the problem of Indonesian backed militias in East Timor. In the context of the current crisis, I have no evidence that those Indonesian backed elements have been involved, that Indonesia has any part to play at all in the activities that are occurring in East Timor.

With respect to the decisions that were made, the East Timorese have always wanted more support from the outside world than the international community has been willing to provide, but the fact is that the support in the context of Indonesia and the militias was decreasingly needed, and the decisions which were made at that time were the right decisions to make. What has happened recently is an entirely home-grown disaster. It is a disaster of the East Timorese’s own making. This is where I would quite strongly disagree with the opposition: the opposition’s proposition here, which I think is muddle headed, is that the international community should, in effect, take responsibility for East Timor and the East Timorese. I think, now that the country is independent and it is free of negative interference from the outside world—in particular from Indonesia—that the East Timorese should take responsibility for their own affairs. The current catastrophic situation in East Timor is brought about by poor management by the East Timorese of their own affairs.

As I said to Jose Ramos Horta only last night on the telephone, we have been prepared to help out, given that the alternative, which was to do nothing, would have been catastrophic for the people of East Timor, but they must sort out their political problems themselves. They must learn to do that. We look forward to the East Timorese sorting out their political problems, because we have had troops there for a little while. We are, as the honourable member for Griffith is suggesting, going to send police. We have nearly 200 police there already. More police will be sent; there will be around 500 international police when they reach their full strength. But, at the end of the day, the East Timorese need to come to a political accommodation. They need to find political solutions and they need to deal with the problems of what are called the petitioners—the 595 people whom they sacked from the army and those other elements known as rebels who have left the army and who support the petitioners. They have to sort those problems out themselves. This notion that somehow we should have had hundreds upon hundreds of troops permanently in East Timor— (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The question is that the proposed expenditure be agreed to.